There have been interesting election results in a number of university student unions over the last couple of months.
The SWP/Student Respect have lost control of their two strongholds, Manchester University and SOAS in London. In the former, which they have run for several years, the left slate which they led narrowly lost general secretary and a number of other key positions to a Labour Students/Lib Dem/Jewish Society lash up. It seems, however, that the SWP sealed their own fate by refusing to work with more independent minded elements of the left and alienating many left-wing activists. A number of left-sounding officers not linked to Respect have been elected; we will have to see how this develops.
In SOAS, with an outgoing SWP finance and communications officer (the equivalent of president), a non-Respect left slate lost the position after the Islamic Society ceased to support the left and decided to go into business on its own account. The left did, however, win the important sports and societies sabbatical position, women’s officer and a number of others. Again, we will see; but it is clear that Respect is no longer in the saddle.
In both cases, the strategy of taking over student unions on the basis of an alliance with not very left-wing Islamic societies seems to have eventually backfired on the SWP.
However, at Goldsmith’s College in London and Essex University, Respect and other left-wingers have made big gains. In Essex, which has a left wing tradition but whose student union has for years been a bastion of the right wing, the left slate Viva Essex! ran a dynamic campaign which won a huge majority on the exec and every sabbatical apart from president — and then won that after spectacular fraud by the Blairite incumbent was revealed. (Congratulations to the president-elect, Dominic Kavakeb of the SWP.) Although the right wing kept the presidency, there is also now a left majority at Goldsmith’s.
At LSE, Green Left activist and Education Not for Sale supporter Aled Dilwyn Fisher has been elected general secretary by a big majority, while at Cambridge ENS won sabbatical women’s officer, came second in a number of other elections and took a big slice of the NUS conference delegation. Cambridge ENS looks well placed to make gains in the union next year. Sussex remains left-led, with a Socialist Party comrade elected Finance Officer.
At Edinburgh the Labour Students clique which runs the union has only held on by attempting to disqualify the soft left (but still left) candidate for president. The result still is not confirmed.
The great majority of student unions are still led by right-wing bureaucrats; and the left-wing ones tend to be in universities at the posher end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, all this is a reminder that students will respond to vigorous campaigns to defend and extend their rights, and that the task of transforming student unions into the fighting organisations we need is not impossible.